tilt-a-whirling

I’ve been on the verge of publishing this for weeks. Every time I think it’s “ready” I stop and wonder if I’m really able to live up to the standards set forth. Do I come off sounding too high and mighty? Too esoteric? Basically, am I bullshitting myself?

I’ve written about meditation before and the benefits that it can give you but the reality is that I rarely do it. I’m like the guy at a party who says he’s doing dry January and then cracks a beer several minutes in. There’s a difference between saying you do something and actually doing the something.

And yet I’m fascinated by the concept. I read about it, listen to podcasts, and expound its benefits to friends after a few kolsch’s. But the reality is much more complex: sitting with your eyes closed doing nothing is actually really fucking hard.

Sometimes we need a kick in the ass to fully realize the hypocrisy of our own minds. We need a sudden change in perception – like the author deciding to take a minuscule edible and then doubling down.

So there I was navigating the tangly depths of an edible, my mind tilt-a-whirling between different sensations, and ironically, what got me to slow down was re-downloading an app – another munchy brain-bite in a long list that night. Waking Up, by Sam Harris. I’ve mentioned it before and since have fallen off.

I sat in a dark room and listened to Sam. In his meditations he likes to reference the mind as a stage. I like to picture the director. It’s his job to put on a show and when I turn my attention inwards – looking directly at him, he notices and puts his best stuff on stage. The massive project at work struts out. Guilt about a text that hasn’t been sent or a call that should’ve been made comes next. All of these actors are great at holding my attention. They’ve done it for years and know the lines by heart.

Most of the time I’m whisked away by this play. The characters are wildly entertaining. As they should be – I created them. But once in awhile I’m able to lead my mind to a different headspace: a state that has access to a release lever.

I relax the muscles in my face a bit. Feel my skin soften into a less tense position. I loosen my jaw, un-clench my back. Sink lower. My shoulders drop. In a very simple, mechanical way, I relax. I clear my plate or as Sam Harris says in a metaphor that’s eerily satisfying – clear my mental inbox.

Try it. Don’t worry about all the bullshit, self-help mumbo jumbo. Start with one simple principle: for ten minutes watch the theatrical acts that come waltzing across your mental stage – and then let them go. Worst case, you can always go back to enjoying the show.

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Ode to slip on vans

It was either the light blue suede or the more standard grey pair. Point for the grey ones for being easy to wear. But point for the faded blue ones because they reminded me of cotton candy or clouds outside of a plane window.

I asked the sales guy which he liked more.

“If I walked into a party and you were wearing the blue ones, I’d think you were cool.”

The blue ones did feel cool. Especially the first night I wore them out at a metal bar in the Mission. A woman was wearing the same pair. They looked cool on her too and I liked the idea of a shoe with no boundaries, no agenda – just a colorful foot.

So I wore the cool blue pair to death and now the seams are cracking and the blue is fading and the shoe looks more like wrinkled skin than something cool you’d see at a party. I’ve looked for another pair but honestly haven’t tried that hard. I’d kind of rather just continue believing they’re one of a kind.

Soul and Grit

“You afraid to touch it?” said a guy leaning up against a Ford Mustang.

I said yeah, and looked around my car for something to probe the mouse with. Something like a straw or pen, maybe even an old bank envelope. The poor thing was frozen solid on the windshield. Who knows how many blocks it had sustained that grip, withstanding the force of the air streaming across the windshield of my old Subaru.

The guy moved closer. He had a black sweatshirt that said “Redneck Army.” He was gap-toothed and lean.

“I work over at the Sewer District. I touch shit all day!”

The man clenched his index, thumb, and middle finger like a pair of chopsticks and pinched the soft underbelly of the mouse. It ran off towards the windshield wipers. The man laughed, saying something about the mouse living in the body of the engine.

After it was safely in the grass I thanked the guy, like he’d done some service, some dirty job for me, and then felt bad about it. Like I couldn’t have dealt with a fucking mouse? I thought about my increasing sensitivity as I sanitized my hands with a jelly-like paste.

I buzzed by his Ford Mustang, making sure to turn down the electro house beat I had pumping prior to the whole mouse thing – opting for something a bit more wholesome. Something with guitar. Something with a little soul and grit.

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Seeing Far

The canyon didn’t look too far off so we thought why the hell not and headed in the direction of the vein that ran through Moab. As we hiked the landscape changed. Unsurprisingly the canyon turned out to be a lot further than it looked. We dipped lower and lower – like water running downhill – and suddenly found ourselves perched at the edge of a steep drop-off.

Staring at all of that sameness reminded me of a sensation I used to experience as a kid when I shut my eyes to go to sleep at night. I called it, “seeing far.”

I would stare at the back’s of my eyes – my mind cruising through the darkness like a spaceship. I expected to bump up against some barrier obstructing me from going further. But there was just space. Limitless, empty space.

When I realized there was no end, I’d pop my eyes open. And yet the expansiveness was everywhere in my room. The corner where two walls met. The hazy outline of my closet. All of it seemed to extend forever. I would start to feel panic-y at being untethered and would hustle downstairs to my parents.

Back above the canyon, I lay down on a rock, and let the sun warm the outside of my body. I shut my eyes and felt a wave of gratitude at being able to drift away from it all – just for a moment. And then my brain turned off – like a watchmen resting his head for a second.

Marcus King at The Fillmore

Dana’s husband stood silently next to us. At least I assumed it was her husband. He had a large gut and kept eyeing me wearily. I was talking too much –  making too many gestures, asking too many questions. 

Dana grinned at me through yellow teeth. She’d seen Marcus King at Jazzfest years before he started to blow up. That’s where she’d purchased her first tee. She traced over the words in large bold font, ‘The Marcus King Band.’ I asked her if it had rained a lot that year and she started telling me about all the good food in New Orleans.

Marcus King strode on stage to massive applause. We danced. And danced. And danced! Other guys in the band jammed out – a drum solo – a bass solo – but really everyone was just waiting for the energy to swing back to Marcus. He stood – knees bent, nodding with a devilish smile spread across his cherubic face – and then leveled everyone with another guitar solo – so ballsy you’d think he was already a rock legend.

Texas Sun

“The best part of my day?”

My brother paused either for dramatic effect or for a moment of silent reflection.

“The two-hour drive in the Runner from Maine to New Hampshire, a fresh lip in…just cruising.”

I liked that. Amid holiday parties and nights out there could be a moment of total ease, with the wheels rolling and a tobacco buzz humming. The feeling that even though you’re on your way somewhere, you’re not really in any hurry. You’ll get there when you get there. Things will happen as they do.

Contentment implies a certain smugness. You’ve figured it out. No, it’s not that. It’s just that the Runner sounds good. The scenery is nice. It’s warm inside – cold outside.

If I had to guess – and certainly this is a guess, I imagine it felt something like Texas Sun.

Get Lost (feat. Ashe) [Ford. Remix]

Yes. Put on repeat. Do it. Trust me. Just do it.

“In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely.  If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do. You will have something remaining which is not completely burned out. Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes. This is the goal of our practice.” – Shunryū Suzuki

Take it off

“Take it all off,” I said, making a lazy motion to the top of my head. This was my third time with Cait. We were starting to get to know each other. She knew what I liked, but this time I wanted something different.

“So, the clippers?” she asked, brandishing them like a samurai sword.

Cait has curly hair and considers herself to be an anarchist. She lives in the Tenderloin, the bleeding heart of San Francisco, and one day she wants to open her own therapy practice.

Cait started with the buzzer at four, just in case I changed my mind. We started chatting about her recent breakup – an engineer who made a lot of money and never talked about his feelings. They’d done couples therapy for a year and then one day he just proclaimed it was over. Shit is fucked, I said.

“Amy is going through the same thing,” she said, pointing the buzzer in the direction of a woman standing above the other chair. Amy is tatted and wears Red Wings. Her hair is long and braided, and hangs beneath a fisherman’s beanie perched on top of her head.

“She came in this morning and wanted to shave her head.” Amy nodded. I pictured two braids being swept off the floor.

Cait told me that hair had energy. She told me she was glad she got the apartment. She might have to find a roommate. Her mom was threatening to visit for Thanksgiving. And then she told me she was going to use scissors for the top, and if I woke up in the morning and really wanted it all gone, she’d do it for free.

Are you ok?

“I wrote a poem today,” said my good friend, who I’m pretty sure had never written a poem. We were smoking a joint – leaving the real world behind. I asked if he would read it out loud. He said yes, so we sat down on a park bench, smoked the rest of the joint, and once we were both feeling jittery and nervous, he launched into it.

I M e

A few months later and I was starting to feel good again. I was forty-something days into burying myself in Sam Harris and Joe Rogan podcasts and was beginning to get into the groove of a loose and not-so serious meditation routine.

Sam was getting me to be in the present. Random shit moved me, like a woman on MUNI with a shaky hand or long walks with just the right amount of downhill. I started to understand why people love taking psychedelics. Awareness of the present moment is fucking sweet.

But there was one thing Sam Harris couldn’t convince me of. You have no head. There is no writer of thoughts. No person sitting back there shuffling cards. The very concept of “I” is just an appearance in consciousness, like a smell or a thought.

Abandon your ego! Basically what everyone says when they come back from Burning Man. It seemed weird but I gave it a go, trying to convince myself on a crowded bus that subjective and objective could be the same, but bumping up against people just reinforced a sense of clear and distinct boundaries.

I kept at it. And by some stroke of luck ended up at a party outside of Pescadero – a Hipcamp designed for ayuascha retreats, fully operational with drums, meditation pillows, and a stripper pole.

Also a swing set

Beers were had. Weed was smoked. Dinner was neglected. And at some point a guy handed me a piece of torn up paper and said, “please write down who you think you are.” He went around the fire telling everyone to write down their occupation or their name or whatever they wanted really. I was too far gone to be able to see where any of it was going and so feeling very clever I wrote down in terrible, drunk chicken scratch, “I am me,” and then slunk off to my tent.

Things starting to get blurry

When I woke up the next morning my head didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I looked outside and saw Charley rolling up his rain fly.

“What time did you Irish exit last night?” he asked. I told him it was right around the time some guy asked me to write down who I was on a piece of paper.

Charley laughed and told me they’d thrown the pieces of paper into the fire and watched them turn into smoke, and suddenly all I could think about was what must have gone up in flames – I am me.